Cat Tales

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Chilean vineyard.
Chilean vineyard.

Do you by any chance, happen to have a black cat? If you do, then you may know something about the folklore that surrounds them. In ancient Egypt in the fifth century BC, most cats were worshipped. To kill one of them was a serious crime punishable by death. But in Europe during the Middle Ages cats were avoided because of their supposed association with black magic. The Pilgrims, despite their devout faith, were suspicious about most things and considered the black cat to be a familiar of witches. During the 14th century, many black cats were killed in Europe with the unexpected result that the rat population increased and probably contributed to the appearance of bubonic plague, better known by its more theatrical name, The Black Death. Many of the superstitions about cats date back centuries and whether black cats are supposed to be lucky or unlucky depends very much on where you live.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you all this (The thought had occurred to me – Ed.) Well, it’s because the Gato Negro range of wines, despite being mass-produced and commercial-looking offer excellent value. The name of course means “black cat” and the wines come from Viña San Pedro. This is a Chilean company which was established in 1865 by the splendidly-named José Gregorio Correa Albano San Pedro. Today the company is one of the largest and oldest exporters of Chilean wine. The Gato Negro (GAH-toh NAY-groh) range of wines first appeared in the 1960s and they’ve been astonishingly successful. They now sell more than forty-eight million bottles every year, a number sufficiently staggering to make my mind go blank without even drinking one. Both the wines this week come from Tesco-Lotus though you’ll probably find them only at the larger branches where there’s a wine section. While you’re there, you might like to check out Tesco’s own brand wines which are sold under the varietal name. I have found them extremely reliable and nearly always excellent value. In May this year, Tesco’s own-label wines were awarded over 140 medals by the industry leading International Wine Challenge, completely beating the competition.

Gato Negro Chardonnay (white), Chile (Bt. 589 @ Tesco-Lotus)

If you’re having a traditional Christmas Dinner this year and looking for a decent white to go with it, this would make a good partner. If you prefer reds, try a light Pinot Noir, ideally one from Burgundy such as those from the companies Bouchard, Georges Duboeuf or Jadot which are widely available. A light Pinot Noir works well with turkey and all the extras. This Chardonnay is a super easy-drinker despite being 13% ABV, which you may have noticed, is fairly typical of Chilean table wines these days. This award-winning wine is an attractive pale yellow, with an appealing appearance in the glass. Take a sniff and you’ll be rewarded with the intense buttery aroma of banana, peach and pineapple. There’s a touch of vanilla on the palate and a bright balanced acidity which gives the wine a refreshing tang. It’s quite lively and assertive for a Chardonnay, with a good firm body and a lingering peppery finish. I would think the wine would work well with chicken dishes, fish, game birds, or veal. Serve it pretty cold at around 10ºC (50ºF) because in these parts, it will warm up all too quickly.

Belleville Chardonnay-Viognier (white), France (Bt. 295 @ Tesco-Lotus)

And no, the price is not a printing error. That’s what is quoted on the Tesco-Lotus website. The wine is produced by VMV Asia, a company which imports wine in bulk from France and bottles it in Vietnam. No one really knows where the Viognier (vee-oh-NYAY) grape originally came from because it was once fairly rare, growing only in the northern Rhône regions of France. In recent years, the grape has become increasingly popular and it’s being used to make aromatic wines in an increasing number of countries. This bright, golden wine has a slightly creamy floral aroma of tropical fruit with hints of dusty herbs and spices. It’s a blend of 70 percent Chardonnay and 30 percent Viognier, fermented for three weeks at around 18° C. You might detect the aroma of pears too, presumably from the Viognier in the blend. On the palate, it’s delicate, crisp and clean with a reasonable long and pleasant finish. The off-dry quality may appeal to those who don’t normally drink wine. It’s a pleasant little glugger, and at 13% ABV I have to admit that the wine tasted a lot better than I expected. At this price it’s a terrific bargain and could make an excellent party wine. Although it seems like a wine to drink on its own, it would probably work well with many Indian and Thai dishes as well as with light curries. It would also work with fish and chicken dishes. If you are looking for a budget white for the Christmas dinner, buy a bottle and decide whether you like it.

Incidentally, during the 10th century King Henry I of Saxony decreed that should anyone feel compelled to kill a black cat, the fine would be sixty bushels of corn. That must have been a staggering amount of money at the time and presumably sufficient to deter people from bumping off most of the feline population.

Viognier grapes.
Viognier grapes.